Farmers market part of downtown debate

The Hollister Farmers Market is meant to bring business to the city and present the downtown as a vibrant business epicenter, but for years some merchants have been saying the Wednesday market hurts their business.

The topic was brought up again at the March 4 City Council meeting after an application by the Hollister Downtown Association for its 2019 annual event road closures—which include the local farmers market. The Hollister Farmers Market sponsored by the association takes place on Monterey Street every Wednesday from May 1 until Sept. 25.

The Wednesday scheduling and the extent of the street closures have been a topic of debate with people like Mayor Ignacio Velazquez—who said the Wednesday date impedes foot traffic to businesses blocked by vendors— and those like Councilmember for District 4, Marty Richman—who thinks changing the date would cause unnecessary competition with neighboring markets.

San Benito County Supervisor, Peter Hernandez is the owner of Ohana Shave Ice on Monterey Street and believes the farmers market has the opportunity to be a tourist attraction for the city. Speaking as a business owner, Hernandez said the farmers market should be specialized, with a variety of options, and a community focus in order to distinguish itself and bring business to Hollister establishments.

Hernandez said he doesn’t believe the downtown association was focused enough on the consumer, “I don’t think that’s the mantra of the HDA, I think they’re focused on traffic.”

Ultimately Hernandez shared Velazquez’s belief that the market should be moved to a weekend so more Hollister residents could enjoy the downtown stores and merchants. Hernandez envisioned booths dedicated to local wineries and the Pinnacles national park. He saw the market as a bigger symptom of a downtown that is struggling, Hernandez told the Free Lance he hoped changes would be made so businesses could be given the opportunity to thrive.

“Downtown is already central to a lot of residents,” said Hernandez. “There’s no reason for us not to be vibrant economically.”

Richman said that while not perfect, the foot traffic brought in by the farmers market showed that it was a success. This year will be the first year the downtown association shortens the span of the market from Fifth Street to Seventh Street and provides free booth space to downtown businesses.

President of the association, Cheri Schmidt, said the market wouldn’t necessarily be smaller, just condensed into the two blocks. Richman believed the changes are enough to accomodate the downtown businesses.

He told the Free Lance that changing the date would eliminate the existing foot traffic, because customers would go to larger more established markets in surrounding areas. “We have a limited population and the truth to the matter is we’re not on a major freeway,” said Richman. “If we change it to a saturday the people that currently go to the farmers market will go to a place where there’s a larger population.”

Gilroy’s farmers market is currently scheduled on Friday’s from June through October and Morgan Hill’s farmers market is every Saturday.

Velazquez thought a date change would have the opposite effect. He hoped the Hollister farmers market could become like the Campbell market and allow the Hollister residents that commute during the week to enjoy their community. “I don’t understand personally why we always accept second and third best,” said Velazquez.

Ultimately, Velazquez said it was up to the downtown association to decide if the date should be changed.

Schmidt said a date change was not off the table, but would require research, a business plan and community input. She said when making major changes like that the association has to take into consideration what the community wants and whether or not the association could execute what the community was asking for.

“I wouldn’t say that it’s off the table, we’ve talked to some different folks about it,” Schmidt told the Free Lance. “It’s not like you just change the day– if it was that easy we would just change it every year.”

If any changes were to happen in the future, Schmidt emphasized that major planning would go into it. Schmidt said, “The worst thing we can do is throw something no one wants to come to.”

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